Football evokes war analogies more than any other sport.
Friday night, those references will be placed in the proper context as Creekside High School will host its first Military Appreciation Day. The Knights may be winless, but the program, school and community at large will honor America’s military.
Prior to kick-off between the Knights (0-4) and Bartram Trail (3-2) students from both schools will collect donations that will be used to develop care packages for military members deployed overseas. For the community there will be music, food, activities and games designed to celebrate everyone from the enlisted soldier to the long-retired officer that begins at 4:30 p.m.
“We came up with the idea that it would be a red, white and blue game. Red for Creekside, white is neutral and blue is for Bartram [Trail],” explained Aaron Carn, a teacher at Creekside High who is one of the catalysts for the event. “When we mentioned it to their athletic director, Ben Windle, he was completely supportive.”
Today’s festivities will be of particular importance to Creekside athletic trainer Ryan Boyer.
In a previous life, Boyer spent four years in the United States Army as a Multiple Launch Rocket System crew member. Boyer, who has worked at Creekside since the school opened, said those who have been in the military — even those they have not met — share a bond that is not easily explained to civilians.
“It’s a sacrifice. It’s people who give a lot more than they get,” Boyer said. “It’s not just the service member. It’s the families too. I’m reminded of the quote they put into “Saving Private Ryan” where Abraham Lincoln sends a letter to the mother who lost five kids [about] ‘the sacrifice for the ideal of America.’ That’s pretty big.”
Boyer enlisted in the Army in 1991 shortly after graduating from Ed White High School. He continued a tradition in his family that included his father, Richard (Navy), paternal grandfather, Kenneth Boyer Sr. (Navy), four of his mother’s uncles and two uncles on his father’s side who joined the Air Force.
Sitting at his desk inside the Creekside training room, Boyer flashed a quick smile as he admitted that he joined the Army, as opposed to other branches, so he could see a different side of military life.
After being stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Boyer spent more than two years stationed at Strassburg-Kaserne, a military base in Germany approximately 45 kilometers southwest of Frankfurt.
“Culturally, it’s huge because it was during the end of the Cold War,” said Boyer, who was discharged in 1995. “I got to spend a bunch of different weekends traveling to different countries and meeting different people. That was one of the best parts of my military experience: Broadening my horizons, seeing the world and other cultures.”
While overseas, Boyer and other soldiers in the 1st Armored Division’s Artillery brigade were selected to serve as the color guard during the 50th anniversary celebration of Belgium’s liberation from Nazi Germany.
The Knights are not the only St. Johns County football program that have had members of the military work with them.
Tim Stats, who works with Bartram Trail’s kickers and junior varsity squad, also served in the Army before becoming a football coach.
Nease defensive line coach JR Parker spent 22 years in the Marines. Menendez assistants Mike Jefferson and Allan DeVos both spent more than two decades in the Army. St. Joseph assistant coach, and 1989 St. Joseph graduate, Robert Hardwick served in the Marines, prior to becoming the St. Augustine Beach Police Chief. Every Thursday, after practice, United States Military Academy graduate Adam Silva speaks to the Ponte Vedra football team about manhood, brotherhood and love.
If there is one commonality between Boyer, Jefferson, DeVos, Parker and the many other veterans who have enriched their communities by coaching athletics, it’s a devotion to discipline as well as instilling an understanding that life is bigger than sports.
There are some parallels between the military and football — especially the fact that for a team to be successful everyone must do their individual job — but Boyer and the others focus on the total commitment and not the tired clichés.
Though he briefly entertained re-enlisting after 9/11, Boyer, who was in his first year working at Rockledge High School when America was attacked 15 years ago, found being an athletic trainer allowed him another avenue to serve others.
Jim Snellen, who turned 90 on Tuesday, is a World War II veteran who earned a pair of Bronze Stars during his 26 months in the Navy. He will be the game’s official honoree when the Knights and Bears meet at midfield.
“I was involved in 11 different invasions in the South Pacific: Eight in the Philippines and three in Borneo. … I didn’t get a scratch. We were lucky.”
Snellen moved to St. Johns County 17 years ago and remained active all the while. In 2008, Snellen published “South Pacific at Seventeen” about his experiences in World War II. For the better part of a decade he has spoken to schools in Northeast Florida about his stint in the Navy and 11-month commitment in what was then called the Army Air Corps.
“It’s such an honor to speak to those students and have them [listen],” Snellen said. “I had one person come up and say, ‘I didn’t know war was like that.’ “
War is one of the many facets of military life that civilians may not understand. While the parallels to football have been made by some, chances are that will not happen on Friday night.
Though the games between the Knights and Bears are rarely close — the average margin of victory has been 25 points — the community, camaraderie and compassion are usually a reflection of the tight-knit suburbs that comprise the boundaries for both schools.
That will be most apparent when red and blue band together in a celebration of football and the military on Friday night.